I really should know better by now – a piece of music arranged for other forces is akin to reading poetry in translation, like seeing a wonderful tapestry from the other side. You get an impression but you do not get the artist’s intention.
After many months of rehearsal on Belshazzar’s Feast yesterday evening we finally got together with the massed forces of Southbank Sinfonia to run it in its orchestral garb, and I have to admit that Walton’s orchestration is pretty impressive. I have heard it before, of course, but from a distance. To hear and see the playing close up is an education worth every second.
As always, I am acquiring ideas for my own writing and listening out for unusual combinations and uses of instruments, and there are plenty in Belshazzar. Although I still harbour the occasional doubt about the moves towards brighter keys at cadences, almost a habit in this piece, the orchestral writing is genuinely thrilling, rip-roaringly so.
After a slightly wobbly first half of the rehearsal – difficult acoustic, difficult placement, difficult music – the choir also came on song (what else?) after the interval, enough to make the music spring into life at various points, to achieve what Walton might have wished when he set pen to paper.
This may all sound a little like an advertisement, and in a way it is. Should you find yourself near the Royal Festival Hall next Wednesday evening then do drop in to say hello. I’ll be sitting at the organ where the small plaque reminds visiting players that there is “No Smoking At The Console”. Who on earth could they have been thinking about..?